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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Interviewee: Ruby Diamond
Interviewer: Rabbi Stanley Garfein
G: I am Rabbi Stanley Garfein, and this begins a series of
interviews on the early Jewish community in Tallahassee.
Our first interview is with Tallahassee's longest Jewish
resident, Ms. Ruby Diamond. We are talking about her
grandfather, Robert Williams, and his family, who, as far as
we know, were the first Jewish settlers in this area. [We
now know that others preceded them.] He came through
Savannah in Sherman's march to the sea.
D: It was not Savannah then. I do not know whether they came
here from Savannah. I know they came in the cart, and my
grandfather walked all the way so it would not be so much
weight for the horse. My aunt and my oldest took along with
them a little deer, and so the horse would not have so much
weight he [the deer] would walk some of the way. My aunt
had this deer as a pet. I remember hearing about the deer.
I do not know whether he [my grandfather] came from
Jacksonville or Savannah. It does not say in any of the
G: Well, that story that you told me about the Union officers
during Sherman's march .
D: Oh, yes. They [your parents] were living in Savannah.
G: And they came here in 1865.
D: Well, they must have come from Savannah, then.
G: What was that story about how the Union officers broke into
the house? I want you to tell me that one again.
D: Well, you see, they had slaves. One day two drunkards came
into the house.
G: Were they Union soldiers that were drunk?
D: They were Union soldiers, and the servant followed them when
they went into the kitchen. She saw that they were looking
at all of the food and looking into the dishes that they
had. They had a goose, and nearby there was some schmalz
[rendered poultry fat],
so she said to them, "Oh, you can have the goose, but please
do not take Ms. Williams's schmalz, Like they knew what
she was talking about. So my grandmother ran out to see if
she could see any other soldiers. Fortunately, two officers
passed by, and she spoke to them and told them that two
drunken soldiers had just come into the house and asked him
to please protect us. So they said, "Why, certainly,
madam." They came into the house and put them under arrest
and removed them right away. They looked around and liked
the house so well they told my grandmother that she
certainly had a nice home, and they would like to have
quarters there for a while. So grandma had guests for a
G: I see. It must have been right after that time that they
came to Tallahassee.
D: Yes, it must have been.
G: Now, you have spoken of your grandfather as a forty-niner.
G: When he left Germany--and by the way, the name of the town
in Prussia was Wreschen--was it due to certain repressive
measures of the government?
D: No, I do not think so.
G: The forty-niners came after certain revolutions had failed.
They did not talk about this?
D: No, I never heard of that.
G: Your father was distantly related to your [maternal]
D: My grandmother was a cousin.
G: A distant cousin?
D: No, she was not a distant cousin. She was a first cousin.
G: A first cousin?
D: Of my grandmother, and my father and my mother were second
cousins, not first cousins. You can marry second cousins in
the Jewish religion, but not first cousins. Generally,
people are cuckoo when their parents were first cousins.
G: Now, when they came to Tallahassee, did they have regular
D: No, they never had religious services regularly. They only
had services for the holidays.
G: Did they bring a rabbi to conduct them?
D: No, they conducted them themselves.
G: Were they traditional? Were they reform?
D: They were more orthodox, I would say.
G: You would say they were orthodox. When there was that
wedding in your family in 1877, they did bring in a reform
rabbi. But perhaps he was the only one available.
D: I know they broke a glass.
G: How do you know that?
D: I remember it at my aunt's wedding, Mena Hirschberg's. They
had the chuppah [canopy under which the bride and groom
stand in a Jewish wedding ceremony].
G: Chuppa. Right. Do you remember the rabbi's name and where
did he come from? [Note that we now have the wedding
D: I do not remember.
G: Where were these weddings held usually?
D: This one was held in the parlor of my home.
G: So many of the happy events were right at home.
D: In the homes, all of them. But, of course, there used to be
Galley's Hall, and they would have the year of festivities
there, the receptions there.
G: Where was that?
D: That was at the corner of Adams and that street where
Putnam's jewelry store is. What street is that? Is that
G: Probably Jefferson. That hall is still there. Perhaps [a
goal of] the improvement group for downtown Tallahassee is
to refurbish that hall and make it useful once again.
D: Is that so? The Levys owned that.
G: I see. Now, there is a long article about a masquerade ball
that was held on Puram in 1878, and most of the families
represented there are relatives of yours. The feasting took
place until the wee hours of the morning.
D: It was held there.
G: It was held, it says, at Cuttner's Hall.
D: Cuttner's. Well, that was right next to the Elinore Shop.
They lived upstairs. They had a great big living room, and
they lived in the back part. I remember that. They lived
in the back part of the store, and the front part was a
great big room.
G: Was that Cuttner's Hall?
D: It must have been Cuttner's Hall, because they were the only
G: Were they caterers?
D: No. It was an old couple and one daughter.
G: I see. Can you remember whether or not this was an annual
D: I do not think so.
G: When was the last one that you remember?
D: I do not remember any of them.
G: We have notices about happenings in Tallahassee up to the
1890s. Then the Weekly Floridian seems to die out. [Break
in the tape.]
D: My grandfather was appointed tax collector during [Ossian
B.] Hart's administration as governor [1873-74]. Well, he
[my grandfather] was removed from office. Hart was a
regular thief; Governor Hart was known on the record as a
regular thief. Well, my grandfather would not steal, so he
removed him from office. My grandfather got up in the
legislative hall and said, "Give me back my saddle!" My
grandfather was not afraid of the devil. He would fight
G: So did they give it back to him?
D: Of course not. He said it to Governor Hart on the floor:
"Give me back my saddle!" [laughter]
G: [How many] Jews [were] here when you were growing up?
D: None at all. I had none to go with.
G: One of your earlier experiences was going to services on the
high holidays. And you mentioned a wedding that you were
D: My aunt's wedding in my house.
G: And I suppose there were no brisses [brith milah, the Jewish
ritual circumcision]. But you did talk about the Jewish
funerals that your father had supervised.
D: Well, a body was sent here, but that was long after I was
grown up. A body was sent here to Cully's, and they asked
them to bury him with the Jewish ceremony. So they sent for
my father, and he told them about it. Daddy acted as a
rabbi and prayed. I do not know whether he had a minyan
[quorum necessary to conduct a Jewish ceremony] there or
G: But he also insisted that the casket not have any metal on
D: Everything was carried out according to Jewish ritual. My
father had seen to everything at the time, so when he died
the colored [men] said they knew exactly how Mr. Diamond's
casket should be and everything. The only thing left on it
is the four handles.
G: There were no burials of Jews in Tallahassee. They all were
sent over to Jacksonville.
D: No, I cannot remember anybody's being buried here.
G: Even the one that you are referring to?
D: That is the only one that I remember.
G: And that was in the old cemetery?
D: The old cemetery. I do not remember any Jewish people being
buried here. Now, there might have been. You could ask the
Culleys; even these young boys would know about it. I do
not know of any. I think they were all buried in
Jacksonville. Now, there was an old cemetery in
Jacksonville, and my mother's first child was buried in that
old cemetery when she died as an infant.
G: You mentioned that you had some of your relatives first
buried here, and then they were taken to that cemetery over
D: That was to the reform cemetery in Jacksonville. I have an
uncle who drowned in the Cascades, my Uncle Jake Cohen.
Then my grandfather, Aunt Mena, and the infant child are
buried there. During my father's doing, when I was a little
girl, the ladies used to make the shroud.
G: And your father supervised it.